RV AC Unit: Read This Before Buying – Learn From My Mistakes

9 RV AC Unit Tips To Implement Now: Read This Checklist Before Buying Your RV Air Conditioner

RV owners know very well that if your dwelling is simply a three-dimensional rectangle box on wheels, an RV air conditioner is a mandatory device to have.

My goal is to make your research on finding the adequate RV AC unit for you, an informed and pristine decision for an educated purchase as there is in the market a wide variety of RV air conditioner options, styles, and manufacturers. Below, please see my considerations.

rv air conditioner

1) The potency of the RV Air Conditioner: The Power Is in the BTUs

RV AC units potency is measured in a measurement unit called “BTU per hour”, that stands for British Thermal Unit). This is the measurement unit for the United States and Britain only. The rest of the world is standardized using a different unit of measurement that we mostly only use for nutrition: calories per hour.

Standard RV AC units are of an average of 13500 BTU per hour or 13.5K BTU per hour as it is written sometimes. This provides a good benchmark to measure power and there are models of much more than 15000 BTU.

If you are usually in the south of the United States or in hot places, and if you have a large RV such a class A RV instead of a small RV, then the Dometic Duo Therm Brisk 2 with more than 13500 of BTU is the model to look at. However, if you do not utilize frequently the RV AC or your RV is very small you can save money buying a less powerful RV AC such as the Coleman Polar Cub.

Size and Height Considerations

Consider the “profile” of the RV AC unit. The “profile” are the dimensions of the RV AC unit. This has to be considered because the smaller RV AC unit models such as the aforementioned Coleman Polar Cub, have noticeably smaller profiles so do not protrude too much from the ceiling. The RV with the RV air conditioner installed has to fit inside a garage.

An RV AC unit will be affected by a negative fuel consumption efficacy if it has a large profile. This will occur because the excess of height over the roofline will generate more resistance and wind drag effect. Therefore you will have higher fuel costs with an RV air conditioner of a larger profile. A smaller RV AC unit will have of course a smaller profile but their potency will be lower, generally lower than 13000 in some cases. Dometic has models that have a low profile and a decent potency at the same time.

3) Rooftop or Under Bench RV Air Conditioner?

The RV air conditioner can be installed in a compartment located internally in the vehicle (this is called “under-bench” RV AC unit) or on the roof of the RV

Internal Compartment or “Under Bench” RV Air Conditioner Units

This is the so-called “under-bench” RV air conditioner and is the most convenient when the roof is cluttered with other devices, when you do not have a stable roof as in folding campers, or when your roof is curved, a feature that I have seen in some tiny RVs. This under bench RV air conditioner has the following features

  • Better heating: As the hot air tends to go up, it is very effective as a heating device, because the RV AC unit will be installed lower when it is an under-bench installation. If you will utilize your RV with freezing temperatures, an under-bench RV air conditioner will be your best option.
  • It does not affect clearance height: As it is not installed in the roof, the RV AC unit does not influence the clearance height at all.
  • Distribution of the air: As the distribution of the air is generally performed ducted, the airflow can be steered and targeted to the different parts of the motorhome. This is a convenient feature in large class A RVs and some class C RVs with a high alcove.
  • Light access: The skylight or the windows are not affected at all. They are not modified or removed.
  • Spatial footprint. To provide space for the storage of the RV air conditioner you should preferably have a larger RV. So in this under-bench installation option, be ready to lose some space of your floorplan.

Rooftop RV Air Conditioner

These RV AC unit models are located in the roof, normally using the space occupied already by the window in the roof of the recreational vehicle.

It is required that the roof is flat and that there are no other devices occupying the space dedicated to the RV air conditioner or any space where the device will intake air from the outside. Therefore, a rooftop RV AC unit will not be suitable for a pop up camper.

Thus, owners of folding campers should pick an under bench model. The main features of having an RV air conditioner located in the rooftop are the following.

Heating: Hot air rises, and as the RV AC unit is already located high, this is not very efficient for heating. Not the best installation for a winterized RV, but possible anyway. Of course, the rooftop devices will add to your height. Obstacles like bridges and tunnels will force you to consider the dimensions of your clearance height. Here I will recommend a low profile rooftop RV AC unit. Therefore this effect can be addressed with low profile devices such as some Coleman and Dometic models that have a sleek design.

Air distribution: Can be non-ducted, but also you can have a very targeted distribution with a ducted system in a rooftop installation.

Light access: Dometic models have an integrated window, so you will not lose your window with these models. Otherwise, considering that these RV air conditioner units are positioned in the roof, they will obstruct the access to natural light. This impediment can also be solved by installing a skylight afterward.

Spatial footprint: As the RV AC unit will be located in the rooftop, it does not affect the spatial layout of your recreational vehicle. An external rooftop RV air conditioner unit is the best solution for a small RV with a flat roof: for example a class B RV

rv air conditioner

All in One: RV AC Unit With Air Purifier 

Some Dometic units come with an out-of-the-box embedded air purifier. This removes any inconvenient odor from the kitchen, wet room, or from the rest of the vehicle.

May Require a Generator

The RV AC unit will require a generator to be operated if you intend to be fully off-grid. However, if you have a motorhome and you want to use the RV air conditioner when you are driving, there is a DC kit that allows the device to be operative from the battery of the recreational vehicle, a 12 V battery.

Adding A Heat Pump For Dual Usage

Paying some more, you have access to models that include a heat pump, such as the Coleman HP2

YOU CAN OBTAIN MORE RETURN ON YOUR RV AIR CONDITIONER IF YOU SELECT A MODEL, such as the COLEMAN HP2 that has a heating pump and allow cooling and heating in the same device.

these models have a reversing valve that will convert the system into an efficient heating system

unluckily, they cannot be bought as accesories but they come with the full unit. therefore these devices are expensive, largely exceeding five hundred dollars

How Many RV AC Units You Need: “Go Ducted”

The answer to this question is largely dependant on the recreational vehicle size. Whereas large class A motorhomes would require two RV AC unit devices, for a small class B RV one RV air conditioner will suffice.

But if your RV AC unit is ducted, you can target the flow of the cool air to different parts of the vehicle. Therefore it is better to duct your device to facilitate the flow of air rather than purchasing a second RV air conditioner as a consequence of an unplanned, or poorly planned, non-ducted installation.

Brand Loyalty As A Point To Consider

Brand loyalty is an influencing factor and sometimes you want the same brand that the manufacturer of your camper will recommend you. With large brands, it is easier to find RV parts or accessories for the RV air conditioner.

Coleman models are cheap, actually very cheap considering the fact that it is a major brand. Their models range from $ 350 to $ 500.

Coleman recommended models are: Polar Cub, because of its low profile and low price, the Mach 3, that is very versatile and cheap. The Mach 15 is the most powerful if this is what you require. Finally, it is worth to mention the Mach 8 because it is similar to the Polar Cub, but even more powerful.

As we said, Dometic has the Brisk II with powerful 15000 BTU that is currently very cheap.

Another brand positioned a bit below Coleman and Dometic, is Atwood which also has an RV air conditioner model with 15000 BTU per hour, very suitable for motorhomes, large class A RVs and large fifth wheels.

rv ac unit

Installation and Maintenance Of The RV Air Conditioner

Manufacturers recommend that you install the RV air conditioner yourself and they furnish the customers with very detailed step by step installation guides also available online.

In the original version of this article, we recommended calling a technician, but in this update, I now recommend you to install it yourself.

After you purchase your RV AC unit, you will still require more parts and accessories, such as capacitors, covers, and filters, that will extend the lifecycle of the device.

rv air conditioner

RV AC Unit Purchasing: Our Conclusions

In summation, unless you have a recreational vehicle with a curved roof or a pop up camper, you should buy a rooftop RV air conditioner. It must have a low profile so you do not have to worry about the clearance height in bridges or tunnels you find along the road.

Even if you have a large motorhome, do not buy two devices, just buy one RV AC unit and duct it so the airflow reaches several parts of your recreational vehicle, even those that are far from the location of the device.

Anthony Foxx

I am Tony, an RV designer and RV developer. I create bill of materials for RV manufacturers for travel trailers and fifth wheels. I worked as a freelance transportation consultant for Lyft. As an RV development consultant, I create customization trees for RV manufacturers who want to offer a solution to prospective customers to design their custom RV with variant configuration. Apart from this, I sell in Indiana trailer hitches, hitch balls, goosenecks and weight distribution systems where I provide advice to customers who want to know which is their towing capacity, which hitch ball should they utilize and how to deploy a weight distribution system. I do my best to explain all these processes and their installation, here in RV Favorites.